MANY SA regional councils are still reeling from the news that they are expected to consult and gauge whether a genetically-modified crop moratorium was still wanted in their regions.
On Tuesday last week, the state government struck a deal with the opposition to lift the GM moratorium, which included amendments such as giving SA's 68 local governments six months from when the legislation passes to apply for the moratorium to continue in their council areas.
The councils would have to prove an economic reason for maintaining a moratorium, but ultimately, the decision would still remain with Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone.
Kangaroo Island will retain its GM-free status.
But Loxton Waikerie District Council mayor Leon Stasinowsky was "very disappointed" councils had not been consulted with before the deal and said he would be recommending to his council to not participate in any decision-making.
"We didn't know anything about this before the decision was made," he said.
"They expect us to consult on the matter and make a decision, yet at the end of day it will be the minister's call? That's a cop out.
"We have had no input in the creation of this legislation and I will be advising my council to have nothing to do with this too - it will be a waste of our time and money because we know the minister is adamant about lifting the moratorium.
"I am very disappointed the buck has been handed on to local governments, when really it should be a matter for PIRSA and the Primary Industries Minister."
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Local Government Association president Sam Telfer, who is also mayor of the Tumby Bay District Council, said over the next few weeks the LGA would be working with the state government and key stakeholders, such as Grain Producers SA, on a framework for councils to guide them through consultation and consideration.
"The responsibility now lies with each individual council to get a gauge as to what their area wants," he said.
"I'd suggest each regional council have some level of business and community input - a pre-consultation consultation - to gauge whether they want to continue with a more thorough consultation process.
"Not every council will find they need to take it that far, but for those that do, this has the potential to be very expensive, particularly in proving the economic advantage."
Mr Telfer said there still needed to be a conversation with the state government about cost transfer.
"Local governments did not ask for this responsibility," he said.
"This has the potential to be a considerable burden on councils, which many of them just don't have the capacity to absorb at the moment."
In a statement to Stock Journal, Mr Whetstone did not address funding support, but said if the legislation is passed, it would "provide advice to councils to assist them if they wish to explore applying to be designated as a non-GM food crop cultivation area".
"We will continue to consult with the LGA as the Bill progresses through Parliament, but ultimately conducting consultation will be the responsibility of local councils," he said.
"Our legislation will provide farmers with the regulatory certainty they need to invest in GM seed and sow GM crops in time for the 2021 season."
Councils get criticised for rates being too high, but we keep getting given more and more work to do with no reimbursement.
Alexandrina Council mayor Keith Parkes also thought that "in this case", councils should be able to claim consultation costs from the government.
"Once again, the government has handballed jobs to local councils," he said.
"Councils get criticised for rates being too high, but we keep getting given more and more work to do with no reimbursement."
Mr Parkes said the region's wide mix of commodities meant consultation would be a must.
"We already have a council-supported group called the Alexandrina Sustainable Agriculture Round Table, which meets on a regular basis to talk about farmer concerns - that group will be a big part of consultation," he said.
"We will also talk with adjoining councils to ensure we do what is best for the Fleurieu Peninsula as a pristine food bowl."
Mr Parkes expects their council to start consultation by the end of May.
Barossa Council mayor Bim Lange thought, with the coronavirus crisis, the timing of the deal "wasn't great" with councils already under a great deal of pressure.
"I would like to see more funding support from the government and a possible extension of the six-month deadline because it is going to be difficult to undertake consultation and then potentially gather evidence in that timeframe," he said.
Mr Lange said his council would need to undertake consultation and then investigation, having already received petitions against lifting the moratorium.
RECOGNISE HILLS' DIVERSE NATURE
RICK Gladigau is a dairyfarmer at Mount Torrens in the Adelaide Hills Council region.
He was in support of the GM ban being lifted, but understood the sensitivity of the topic in his electorate.
"Many won't be accepting of it, but the council has to recognise the diversity of primary industries in the area," he said.
"There is a lot of agriculture in this region that would benefit from lifting the moratorium.
"We may not grow a lot of canola, but I would love to have access to livestock feed options such as GM ryegrass.
"If we want to talk about future sustainability, that would make my business a lot more profitable, and we should be considering that, particularly as GM ryegrass is not going to affect my winemaker neighbour's grape crop."
Mr Gladigau feared the 'green vote' would sway community attitudes towards keeping the GM ban.
"There hasn't been enough discussion in the community about what GM is really all about," he said.
"There is already GM food products on supermarket shelves, so better education is needed."
SA'S RECENT GM TIMELINE
- April 2020 - Greens move to reinstate GM crop ban
- March 2020 - SA Best to introduce GM Bill
- February 2020 - Govt ready to introduce GM Bill
- December 2019 - GM legislation blocked
- December 2019 - State government introduces legislation to remove the GM moratorium
- November 2019 - Disallowance motion blocks government efforts to lift the GM moratorium
- October 2019 - Regulations to restrict the statewide GM moratorium to only KI
- August 2019 - Government signals its intentions to lift the GM crop ban
- February 2019 - Independent review finds GM ban has cost SA farmers $33m
- September 2018 - Government announces independent review
- November 2017 - GM ban is extended to 2025
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